Dear Editor, With the visit of Pope Benedict XVI now just days away, I believe it is important to address some of the coverage relating to the costs associated with this historic, once-in-a-lifetime event.
Of course, I understand why there is a debate but personally I believe funding for this visit – on both a local and national level – can most definitely be justified.
We have a man of great integrity, who leads more than a billion people in his faith around the world, coming to the United Kingdom for his first state visit. We really would be in dire straits if we found ourselves unable to host the state visit of a man who leads so many people across the globe.
That is not to say we should be foolish with the money. I think this visit has been carefully co-ordinated, with every effort made to keep costs down, but we have to acknowledge that the biggest cost is security, and that, especially in this day and age, is unavoidable.
I’m sure many of your readers will agree it is wrong to look at this eagerly anticipated visit in purely monetary terms but, from a Birmingham point of view, we’re actually getting incredible value for money from this visit. We have a momentous occasion, providing an opportunity to showcase our city and profile us all across the world.
In pounds, shillings and pence, purely over the period of the visit itself, there’s nearly £12.5 million of economic benefit and the city has limited its cash contribution to £80,000, which is a modest figure when you look at the returns.
Birmingham City Council employs very good officers who deal with events as part of their day-to-day jobs and they are taking great pride in ensuring that this event is a great success. Our team of officers who are helping to support this event includes people who deal with traffic management and transportation plans, resilience, liaising with West Midlands Police and so on. These officers work on events on a regular basis but this marvellously exciting event is something special. They’re doing it as part of their normal job and we are extremely proud to be able to deliver this.
As you are no doubt aware, we have had a minimal amount of time to prepare for an event of this magnitude – we’re talking about something in the region of 60,000 people at the beatification alone – and there’s been an enormous amount to plan.
At one stage we did not envisage Birmingham would have such a big part to play in this visit. Late changes to the itinerary have meant we have had to quickly pull together and be ‘Team Birmingham’.
But the good thing is, everyone involved has pulled together and we have worked as a great team. We have worked hard with our partners – the police, the church and other groups – to make sure this is a good occasion for everyone who participates.
This historic occasion will be remembered for years to come and to assess it in purely financial terms misses the wider significance.
Cllr Alan Rudge, Cabinet Member for Equalities and Human Resources.